The 2014-15 Development Academy season kicked off for Sporting Kansas City over the Sept. 20-21 weekend, and for two of its players, the offseason included a side trip away from the customary outdoor pitch.
Sporting Kansas City Academy U-17/18 forwards Nic Jaimes and John Leisman have spent a portion of the year with U.S. Futsal National Team. They both traveled with the squad to Argentina in August, and Jaimes had earlier trained with the U.S. Futsal squad in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The opportunity presented itself when Sporting Academy Director Jon Parry connected his players with U.S. Futsal National Team head coach Keith Tozer.
“Last year we had futsal nationals and had a good tournament,” Jaimes said. “I enjoyed it and expressed that joy to my coach Jon Parry, who put in a good word to Keith Tozer. I was later invited to train with the team in Wisconsin, and that opened the door.”
“I’m still fairly new to futsal – about three or four years for me – and after playing in futsal I.D. camps in the central region, Coach Tozer selected me to play for the U.S. Futsal Team,” Leisman said. “It was overwhelming before going in because I didn’t know what to expect, but I was able to adapt. The guys were great, too. It was welcoming and I fit right in.”
As part of its curriculum, the Development Academy has put greater emphasis toward futsal with the implementation of a portion of its U-13/14 schedule incorporating this element. For the 17-year-old Jaimes and the 16-year-old Leisman, they saw the rewards immediately when returning to the outdoor game.
“We got back and I could see the difference in how much more comfortable I was with the ball,” Jaimes said. “I felt like I had this time and space, and it helped increase my vision. I had a lot more confidence.”
“Coming back to outdoor, it felt like a much bigger game with more space and more time on the ball,” Leisman said. “One area where futsal really helped is the emphasis on your movement off the ball. When I went back to outdoor, my ability to move off the ball improved a lot.”
Jaimes and Leisman were both very much thrown into the fray during the U.S. Futsal Team’s multiple games against Argentina. Tozer and the staff are focused on the big picture of the 2016 CONCACAF Futsal Championship and establishing both veteran and young talent to represent the best possible team. During this process, the Academy has had several players in the mix, one of the most noteworthy being former Shattuck-Saint Mary’s Soccer Academy midfielder Lucas Stauffer.
“The game is so quick and so fast. You really have to adapt on your toes and be smart about it,” Jaimes said. “In futsal, you do a lot of drills where you’re using the sole of your foot to maintain control of the ball. When the ball comes to you, you need to keep things in front of you to go forward and take guys on. There is also much more focus on quick and fast movements. In outdoor, your movements are overlapping runs. In futsal, you take off and cut in front of them – shorter and quicker movements.”
With Leisman making his first trip and limited training with the U.S. Futsal Team in Argentina, it was initially thought that he would be eased into the process. That hardly was the case.
“In the first game against Argentina, because I had only one or two practices, the initial plan was to watch the first game and see what the level was like,” Leisman said. “So, I did that for the first half. When the second half came around, I was thrown into the game. Argentina was quick with their movements and passing. Even though you are only on for maybe a minute and a half or two minutes, your heart rate is totally different.”
Leisman says that individual skill on the ball is such a premium because you have fewer teammate options and tight spaces to work with.
“A lot more focus is on the individual because you only have four players and the goalkeeper,” Leisman said. “You are constantly under everyone’s watch, so when you get the ball, Coach Tozer always preaches that you have to face up right away. Argentina’s defenders would already be on you. The key to the game is you need to explode out of your base. There also is no opportunity to catch your breath. You have to move immediately or you won’t be able to keep the player in front of you.”
It remains to be seen how heavily involved Jaimes and Leisman will be as part of the U.S. Futsal Team in this cycle, but working with Coach Tozer and playing the sport during a South America trip was a huge learning experience moving forward.
“I think I adapted and felt more comfortable after getting over the initial hump at the Wisconsin camp,” Jaimes said. “Playing at this level was great, and the coaches gave me some good tips and helped me out. Argentina was a great experience because they were so quick. One moment that stuck out to me was a corner kick that we had, where Argentina countered and I was able to catch up to him for a clearance on the end-to-end run.
“It’s such a demanding game, and it’s really helped me grow.”